NEWS

FYROM issue could lead to autumn elections in Greece Greek government fears end of Nimetz mediation

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has decided to take issue with the Greek community in the US, while persisting with its use of the name Macedonia and further aggravating relations with Greece by renaming its largest airport «Alexander the Great.» The current climate has done nothing for the UN-mediated talks with Greece over the name issue, and has had a direct bearing on Greece’s domestic political life, while Athens has also warned that it will block NATO’s expansion. The Greek government is concerned that soon, perhaps by September, UN mediator Matthew Nimetz will decide to surrender his mandate to the UN secretary-general on account of the fact that his efforts have proved fruitless. That could lead to early elections in Greece, as the Karamanlis government would not want to go to the polls in the shadow of any adverse development in the FYROM issue. Greece has expressed its displeasure to the US over Washington’s encouragement of FYROM’s intransigence. US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns will be discussing the issue in Athens in early June. According to sources, Burns wants to be present when outgoing US Ambassador in Athens Charles Ries completes his tour of duty here on June 13. Burns has been aware of Greece’s sensitivity on this issue since his own term as US ambassador to Greece and is anxious to seek a «realistic solution» in an attempt to reassure the Karamanlis government, which is determined not to be humiliated and appears unwilling to bear a heavy political cost at home by cooperating with NATO. As the apparently imminent independence of Kosovo could spark fresh violence in the Balkans, Washington is counting on Greece’s stabilizing influence, yet without offering to persuade Skopje to agree to a compromise. Burns’s visit will take place at a time when Greece is heading for elections amid continuing friction with Skopje and as the US appears to be attaching greater strategic importance to FYROM than to Greece. This is the only possible interpretation of a recent letter from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to her FYROM counterpart confirming that the US will support FYROM’s accession to NATO even if there is no agreement on the name issue. Strong US support for FYROM’s accession to the alliance will also be publicly stated by President George W. Bush when he meets with FYROM’s prime minister on June 10 in Tirana. However, delays in advancing reforms necessary for accession, not only by FYROM but also Albania, mean their applications for membership will not be examined until early 2008. The latest conflict arises from the mobilization of the Greek lobby in Congress in an attempt to convince FYROM to reach agreement over the name and cease all other provocations. FYROM Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki responded by saying «the Greek-American lobby would do better to focus its attention and its energy on improving the situation in the mother country (Greece) and on supporting the stabilization of the Balkans within the framework of unifying NATO, instead of wasting its efforts on an irrational bilateral difference with the Republic of Macedonia over its name.» In response, the Greek-American newspaper National Herald spoke in terms of an «insane statement» and once more criticized the Bush administration for recognizing FYROM as «Macedonia,» noting that «it had chosen to trust people of Milososki’s ilk instead of a trusted friend, Greece.» The American-Hellenic Institute accused Skopje of using propaganda in school textbooks and on maps, but also attacked its renaming of the airport. It reminded Milososki that politically and economically, Greece was the most powerful country in the Balkans. Similar statements were made by the US branch of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) and the Pan-Macedonian Union. Greece’s position has been exacerbated by a decision by South Korea, homeland of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, to recognize the «Republic of Macedonia,» compromising the position of Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and her associates who just two months ago at a dinner for the secretary-general in New York, had explained Greece’s position and called for persuasive mediation by the UN.